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Home Repair: Dudley St. Initiative celebrates 15 years

The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative celebrated its 15th anniversary last night at the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End with more than 350 residents and supporters by recognizing outstanding leaders and announcing future plans to continue economic and educational developments.

DSNI, which seeks to transform the Dudley Street neighborhood into a thriving community, awarded 11 community leaders and supporters with plaques for their dedication to the community.

The event brought together Dudley residents, DSNI supporters and contributors. It also allowed guests to reflect on DSNI’s part in revitalizing the Dudley community, which suffered from decades of neglect.

Over the last 15 years, DSNI has helped to rebuild more than half of the Dudley neighborhood by creating homes, parks and businesses. When it formed in 1984, neglected lots where houses once stood comprised nearly one-third of the neighborhood. Desperate landlords set fires almost daily to collect insurance money on neighborhood homes and business.

The area became a dumping ground for garbage, which lowered property value and community morale. Because the government “neglected” the community, the downward spiral continued for several years, said DNSI Board Member Paul Bothwell.

“It was so desperate and so poor,” he said. “Saying it was so intentionally neglected by the city is an understatement.”

DSNI Executive Director John Barros stressed that the event would be a “huge success” if it allowed neighbors to reconnect with each other and build new relationships. The 27-year-old leader has served for 12 years on several DSNI committees and helped establish new ones, including the Youth Committee.

Barros pointed to the pictures lining the auditorium’s walls that depicted Dudley’s past and present as a testimony to DSNI’s success. One picture showed Dudley residents sitting in front of an abandoned lot on Dennis Street. Several pictures to the left, another photo showed the same street with newly built houses and businesses.

DSNI recognized the Mabel Louise Riley Foundation staff, the first major DSNI contributor. Trustee Bob Holmes, one of the honorees, said the foundation originally decided to support the establishment of DSNI after the Riley staff toured the neighborhood in 1983 when another community organization asked for money for a new carpet. Outraged by the neighborhood’s dilapidated condition, the foundation chose to fund the fledgling DSNI to work toward improvement.

“We wanted to do something with more impact,” Holmes said.

Award recipient Charlotte Golar Richie, the state’s chief of housing, said she remembered campaigning in the Dudley neighborhood at a vacant lot between Blue Hill Avenue and Dudley Street, which the DSNI has since transformed into a garden for social events. As the director of the Department of Neighborhood Development, Richie said that her work with DSNI helped her understand the idea of “community process.”

“Development happens best when it happens from the grassroots up,” she said.

DSNI also honored 20 children ranging from 7-17 years old from the Roxbury-based Youth-on-the-Move for their dedication to neighborhood clean-up. The children volunteer to pick up trash in the Dudley neighborhood and organized a community clean-up rally called “Talking Trash.”

Another honoree, Jason Webb, who began working with DSNI as an 8-year-old, said he was always drawn to the organization. Even as a child, Webb would follow potential trash dumpers on his bicycle. He now takes pictures of them with a digital camera.

Other distinguished supporters included WBZ anchor Liz Walker and Mel King.

“It all begins with one action to change the world,” Walker said.

King said he brings the 1995 documentary video on DSNI everywhere he travels. After showing the video to a community in Bombay, India, the inspired residents wanted to create a similar organization, he said.

“This is the way life and community is at its finest,” King said. “It’s an incredible show of what can happen everywhere on the planet.”

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